With bandits taking over even president’s state, anarchy is near —Osuntokun
Akin Osuntokun has worked with two former Nigerian presidents. He was an aide to a leading opposition presidential candidate. A communicator and activist, his views on the state of the nation were shared with SEGUN KASALI and LANRE ADEWOLE, in this interview. Excerpts:
I will put you in the category of Yoruba intelligentsia. What exactly is the Yoruba race looking at, at this point of our nationhood?
We have short-term and long-term imperatives. Short-term imperative is the security of Yorubaland and, of course, of Nigeria at large, because neither can be achieved exclusively. So, that is the immediate objective. The immediate and overriding objective confronting us now is the security crisis that has escalated and gone beyond what could have been imagined.
But, of course, the long-term objective borders on the operation of federalism; the restoration of federalism that was destroyed in 1966. The destruction kept on gaining momentum until we got to where we are now. I have always spoken to the fact that, theoretically and practically, federalism is self-evident and if you look at people, like the stature of the president, who initially was opposed to it, now seeing it as the way forward, you will realise what we have been saying all along.
I keep on telling people that there is nothing wrong with the Independence Constitution. The fact that it was violated doesn’t mean we sat anywhere to say that constitution was wrong. It was wrong, according to those who did the coup. Must we follow their restrictions? Shouldn’t we have reverted to what we were doing, which was the norm, rather than reinforce an accident? An accident that led to the civil war and military rules; which is antithetical to federalism.
So, there is nothing logical in the opposition to federalism. That is the long-term proposal. As I said, it was not even a partisan thing; it was accepted by all parts of Nigeria. Where else have we had a similar agreement on which the British colonialists sat together with the founding fathers – Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe and Ahmadu Bello – to say this is what we want for Nigeria? Which other one comes near that kind of legitimacy? This is the situation we have found ourselves in.
The governor of Katsina State had to cancel the swearing-in ceremony because of insecurity. People are being abducted on the highways. People cannot go to farm and the situation keeps on degenerating. The Minister of Defence was talking to a group of Northern community about vigilante and local policing. How is that different from what people have been saying about federalism?
So, the long-term political stability in Nigeria is contingent upon the adoption of federalism. As we have said, restructuring is inevitable. What is open to you to choose is whether to do it proactively by using initiative or have it forced on you by political implosion.
The President said federalism meant freeing local governments from financial clutches of states. Do you agree with that?
That is antithetical to federalism. Local governments are part of the states. If it’s to make local governments consistent with federalism, it means you have to abolish it as the third tier of government. You don’t have a third tier of government in a federation. In federalism, you have two tiers of government. Local rule is left to the region. It’s not for the centre to decide.
What exactly are we looking at since the president appears ready to talk?
Let me tell you something, you don’t reinvent the wheel. I just told you what federalism presupposes in specific terms. All what is required now for us to have federalism is the devolution and decentralisation of power to the state. That is the practical step to take.
I was a bit surprised that the president was talking about true federalism. Of course, they were the ones saying that they don’t know what true federalism means.
Do you think the president is sincere or it was a mere political talk?
I think the revealing circumstances imposed it on him. You cannot shy away from reality. Of course, the implementation of it can be subjected to controversy everywhere. But, the reality is that, let him go to Kastina State or his family and stay without police protection.
I was going to come to implementation. Are you in favour of the National Assembly doing it or having something like ‘the peoples’ parliament?’
No. To review the constitution; that is what it means. The National Assembly is just part of the process of reviewing the constitution. It requires the two-thirds of the National Assembly, two-thirds of the 36 state Houses of Assembly. That is the process of amending the constitution of Nigeria.
The other one you can do, which will eventually end up as constitutional repeal, is what former President Goodluck Jonathan did and what people have been talking about; which is to convene a national conference. That, perhaps, would have more legitimacy than those in the National Assembly.
Are you calling for another constitutional conference?
From what I have said, you should take that for granted. Just meeting at the national conference will not grapple with what we are faced with now. If in 2014, we were thinking about cosmetic changes, with regards to decentralisation and devolution, you now know that these are enough strata. Of course, you know it would lend greater authenticity to it. All the money we wasted on the last election would probably have been well spent. You spent so much money, in a country that is so poor, on an election which legitimacy is in question.
What do you think should happen to reform reports of the past administrations; like the Nnamani-led committee, the Uwais-led committee and others?
They are all relevant documents that should be put together. Even from the past ones, pick what is relevant and discard the rest. Other issues begging for attention have cropped up.
Power devolution, fiscal federalism and wealth redistribution; how do you think they should play out?
It is not what I think that should play out. The law is the law. What we asked you to do is a form of organisation. It’s like somebody getting married and you are asking me how it would evolve. I don’t know. But, there are rules and morals that guide it. The thing is that it precludes dysfunction. In view of experiences we have had that are giving Nigeria the status of a failed state, it gives you an opportunity to cross-reverse that damage.
As I said, you are not reinventing the wheel. So, you will have a practical experience and have a positive impact on the society.
Are current governors responsible and responsive enough to have more power and money?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that restructuring will address all the problems of Nigeria. It may even fail. The key is that Nigeria stands a chance of surviving and being viable. Without it, it is certain that the country will fail. Restructuring is a culture that can complement when you take all the peculiarities into consideration. There was a reason of minds that led to it. The point we are making is that governance has experienced bastardisation. Well, we have to start somewhere. You are right about the quality of political leadership that we have now. The thing is that it will not get its own maximum advantage. It cannot even maximise under the political destruction we have today.
As I said, it has a short-term and long-term utility. Nigeria needs a short-term remedy to stop the bleeding and start attending to the wounds you have located. So, that is the kind of analogy we are talking about.
In definite terms, what do you think should be done in the immediate; creation of state police, neighbourhood police or what?
You have said it. Decentralisation is one aspect of it. There are so many. You have the powers of the constitution, under federalism, channeled through three main principles – the ones in the Exclusive List, Concurrent List and the Residual list. What distinguishes federalism from any other form of government is that the Residual list resides in the second tier of government. What we have in the Exclusive List, like foreign affairs, Armed Forces and others, will be exclusive to the centre. In the concurrent list, we have education and so on.
Then, we have the residual, the ones that are not specified in either of exclusive or concurrent list. So, this is the prescription. First, you are being told the principle. After being told, go ahead to work the details. There is a framework for restoring Nigeria to federalism.
So, if we work in good faith, we just work by that dictated framework. The president is not expected to dictate the constitutional change or review. We can choose to have a referendum or go through the channels that we have; the structure of the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly.
There are some issues that are not as consensual as local police, but there seems to be a consensus on this platform. We start from that low-hanging fruits.
Many see Nigeria as a failing state, and the Yoruba nation is still a part of it. What can be done?
I am not comfortable with the emphasis on the Yoruba nation. You see, it is suggesting the inevitability of people falling apart. Theoretically, yes, in terms of being a nationality. But, you see it is intertwined with the prospect of the country itself. It is not a question of what Yoruba wants. It is a question of what is workable for Yoruba and Nigeria at large. And I keep on telling you to go back. We are not re-inventing the wheel. In terms of legitimacy, we have already done that. The agreement between the founding fathers and British colonialists had already resolved that. Ahmadu Bello was there. Discussions were done and federalism was not imposed on him. Even as a matter of fact, here was somebody who was more demonstrating than his colleagues. This is an illustration of the priority that was given to federalism as of that time. You have somebody who could choose between Prime Minister of Nigeria and Premier of Northern Nigeria at that time and he chose to be premier of the region. And what he said at that time was ‘that is where you have the greater capacity to affect the prospect of your region,’ not from the centre.
Is state police an immediate remedy to the widespread insecurity in the land?
Of course, there is an argument about that. State police will give people the advantage in relating with their environment. It presupposes that here in the South-West, the police will converse with the Yoruba people who understand their locality, who can relate more effectively in that locality and the same thing goes for other regions. If they take you to Sokoto as a policeman, you are not going to be effective as someone who is from Sokoto. So, of course, you are going to have a good security situation, different from a situation where the chief security officer of the state does not have the commanding power over the security situation of the state. They don’t report to the governor, but to the centre, which is one of those things that have created one of the situations that we are in.
Some people are not averse to Federal Government’s olive branch to the Fulani herdsmen, now rated the fourth deadliest terror group in the world. The argument is, what is N100 billion to human lives?
First and foremost, you are setting a precedent that is going to get you into trouble. Anyway, all you need is for a band of criminals to come together and blackmail you to collect money from you and it is not correct to equate the Niger Delta with this. It is different from this. Niger Delta has to deal with the despoliation of their environment. Anybody involved in grazing is not the responsibility of the state; it is private business. Under federalism, it is not you that would say I will give you this, but it is them (federating units) that will contribute to the centre.
So, they are not comparable. Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are terror groups. I don’t buy into the N100 billion thing at all. We don’t subscribe to blackmail as an instrument of government. So, what stops the Yoruba farmers coming together as Agbekoya that the farmers’ produce had been destroyed? Farmers in the South-West have suffered and they should come together now. Probably, they even have more legitimacy than the ones that are given money or they say that ‘you must compensate us, or we resort to criminality.’ The one that should be, in my own mind, in the spirit of fairness, is the North-East; those who suffered terrorism or Boko Haram destruction in those areas. Not that I am totally opposed to any charitable effort towards them, but it is not mandatory. Without being arbitrary, how did you arrive at that sum in a situation where the country is piling up debts on a daily basis? How did you arrive at that sum? At the same time, we are spending money on cattle colony. If I choose to be a nomad, what does that do for Nigeria?
As a communication expert, do you have any issue with the Fulani radio?
I don’t have any issue against it, but the environment. You see, a neutral policy can have the signal of a discriminatory policy, in a circumstance in which people are alienated from one another. It reinforces suspicion of what people have been saying. So, it is in the context that we have it that is not right. It reinforces the anxiety that is already on ground. A competent government should take it into consideration that ‘let us check the implementation of this thing, in view of the crisis we have on ground. Let’s defer it for a year or something.’ I am not against it, but it is the implementation and context that is wrong.
Do you believe in your former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s postulation that there is an agenda to Fulanise Nigeria?
Get what he said correct. He said that is the agenda of Boko Haram. Of course, Boko Haram said, before his own opinion came out, that they are opposed to secularity and that they want to Islamise the country. They themselves said it.
So, there isn’t much to disagree with what the former president said. And he is in a position to know more than you and I. It is something that has taken him a lot of reluctance and agony to come out with. So, for that kind of person to come out with it openly, we should commend him. Of course, people like Professor Wole Soyinka agreed. So, there is nothing for me to disagree with there.
There has been a spike in the activities of the Fulani herdsmen in Yorubaland. But I noticed your reluctance to be definite in your position; maybe you don’t want to be in a tight corner. Is that so?
Listen! Let me tell you something. I have an obligation as a Yoruba and also have an obligation to this country. I was educated by Nigeria. Nigeria has invested a lot in me. So, whenever I am criticising things, wanting them to get better, it is the obligation I have and I was trained to think rationally and contribute to the development of Nigeria. My obligation to the Yoruba and Nigeria are not mutually exclusive. There is no what the Yoruba want for themselves that they don’t want for others. I am very reluctant in division, because you are further aggravating the situation. Of course, you said that I am a communication expert and I should know the importance of communication and I should reflect that expertise.
So, you are not for ‘to your tent?’
My own fear is that if we allow this issue to degenerate, that kind of idea will be imposed on us, whether you like it or not. That idea of ‘to your tent oh Israel’ is being gradually imposed on us, regardless of your own preferences. People in Yorubaland are saying farming and food security are being dealt with and we have evidence for it. So, would I turn away from the evidence seen with my own eyes? Whoever loves Nigeria will not say ‘to your tent oh Israel’ and nobody benefits from it. So, I don’t indulge in sloganeering.
What do you think is the lasting solution to the problem of insecurity in the country?
I have already told you. It is the devolution and decentralisation of power. And more so, when you are designing a society, you take into consideration those things that can preclude it. When you are addressing a situation, you have what is called deterrents. You have the positive incentives. It is not only the punitive engagement that is the only aspect of it. You can take steps that will anticipate and preclude that. It wouldn’t have got to this stage. You don’t need to get to this stage before you can anticipate it.
So, those are the aspects of responding to and doing it, in a preemptive manner.
Would you consider the ordering of arms and ammunition by the Federal Government a good move?
Unless you can input corruption into it, there is nothing bad about it. If there is no ulterior motive for it, anything done to boost the security of Nigeria should be welcomed – adequate equipment for the security forces; though we have not seen the result of all these monies you are spending on security. The money that is supposed to get to the officers at the war front disappears among the senior officers. But, in terms of saying we want to be equipped to combat the security situation of the country, part of it is to order these arms and ammunition. It is welcomed.
If this government refuses restructuring, do you foresee the possibility of revolution?
To the extent that revolution tends to be an organised and purposive instrument, I doubt if there is going to be; anarchy, yes, which is a more dangerous situation. Revolution has a controlled set of ideas about it. But anarchy is an uncontrolled violence, which is what we seem to be contending with now.
But anarchy has an element of division, which you don’t foresee. Isn’t it so?
You don’t allow the situation to get to that level. You are going to have emergency responses. But by the time it gets to a situation of anarchy, the country will be in problem. It can easily degenerate into total war. That is if you are not doing anything to arrest the degenerating security situation in the country.
Do you still want to be Ekiti State governor?
One of the problems we have in Nigeria is placing personal ambition over national interest. For me, I am totally focused right now on the situation of the country. In any case, we have just had an election. To that extent, it is very premature. Whether I want to be governor or not is so down on the priority ladder.